What's In Blue

Posted Sun 10 Apr 2022

Ukraine Briefing

Tomorrow morning (11 April), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the situation in Ukraine, under the agenda item “Maintenance of Peace and Security of Ukraine”. The meeting will be chaired by Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister of State for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, and the UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous and UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Manuel Fontaine will brief. For the first time since the outbreak of the war on 24 February, a civil society representative will also brief the Council on Ukraine.

Albania and the US, the penholders on Ukraine, requested the meeting, which will apparently have a double focus: on women’s political participation in the context of the crisis in Ukraine, and on the war’s effects on women and children, particularly the impact on education. It seems that these members decided to organise the meeting in response to mounting reports of atrocities committed by Russian forces, including killing and torture of civilians, conflict-related sexual violence, and attacks against civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

Reports of indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians which emerged from cities and villages retaken in late March from Russian forces near the capital, Kyiv—including Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka—have sparked international outrage and widespread calls for investigation and accountability. They have also galvanised further actions to isolate Russia in international fora, as the US, together with Ukraine and other partners, tabled a resolution at the UN General Assembly seeking Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The resolution was adopted on 7 April, with 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions. Among Security Council members, three voted against the draft (China, Gabon and Russia), six abstained (Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates) and the remaining six members voted in favour (Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the US, and the UK). Several members who abstained—including Brazil, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates—noted in their explanation of vote that they believe that a decision on suspending Russia from the HRC should have been taken only after the conclusion of the investigation by the independent international Commission of Inquiry established by the HRC on 4 March.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some members may reference the reports of atrocities committed in areas near Kyiv as examples of the catastrophic effects of the war on civilians, including women and children. They are also expected to express concern about the intensification of attacks in other parts of the country, including eastern Ukraine. In this regard, many speakers are likely to raise the 8 April missile attack on a railway station in the city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. According to media reports, the attack resulted in over 150 civilian casualties, including at least 50 deaths. In an 8 April tweet, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the attack as “deliberate slaughter”, arguing that Russian troops “knew that the train station was full of civilians waiting to be evacuated”. The Russian Ministry of Defence denied these claims in an 8 April tweet and alleged that the attack was carried out by Ukraine’s armed forces. During an 8 April press briefing, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric condemned the attack as a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law and stressed that the perpetrators must be held accountable.

Bahous may highlight in her briefing the different ways in which the war is affecting women and men and the increased risks and challenges faced by Ukrainian women activists, journalists and human rights defenders. On 29 March, UN Women and the NGO Care International issued a Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) of the situation in Ukraine. The RGA notes that although women and women’s organisations play a crucial role in the context of the humanitarian crisis, they are underrepresented in decision-making at the local and national level and are largely absent from the negotiation process between Russia and Ukraine. Bahous may reiterate some of the RGA’s recommendations, such as the need for a gender-responsive and intersectional humanitarian response that is informed by data and evidence collected from persons of all genders. She may also stress the importance of the meaningful participation of women and girls, including from marginalised groups, in all decision-making processes, including on humanitarian and pollical issues.

Council members are likely to express concern about increasing reports of conflict-related sexual violence. A 16 March Care International RGA on Ukrainian refugees in Poland noted that reports have emerged of “sexual violence by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women and girls in and fleeing the country”. A 3 April Human Rights Watch report documented violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by Russian soldiers in areas under their occupation, including rape, summary executions and other cases of violence against civilians. In a 28 February statement, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten urged all parties to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law, “including the categorical prohibition of all forms of sexual violence”. On 7 April, Patten and Bahous issued a joint statement expressing grave concern at the “mounting allegations of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in the context of the war in Ukraine” and calling for rigorous investigations. The statement also calls for orders to be issued through the “respective chains of command prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence” and stresses the importance of centring the safety and well-being of survivors in all responses. Tomorrow, Council members may call for accountability and for the provision of key services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Council members may also seek an update from the briefers on the situation of displaced civilians, including the risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to a 6 April OCHA situation report, more than 11 million people have been displaced by the conflict. Among those, nearly 4.3 million people—most of whom are women and children—have fled across international borders. On 16 March, Patten issued a joint statement with Siobhán Mullally, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and Reem Alsalem, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. The statement expressed concern about the increased risks of “sexual violence, especially trafficking in persons, impacting significantly women and children fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and forcibly displaced” and called for effective prevention and protection systems to be put in place in transit and destination countries as well as at border crossings. At tomorrow’s meeting, Bahous may brief on her 9 April visit to the Palanca border crossing in Moldova, where she met with Ukrainian refugees, the Moldovan border police and volunteers. In a video released from the crossing, she stressed the importance of ensuring that the refugees are “protected, well taken care of and, eventually, that they can go back to safety and peace”.

Fontaine is likely to brief on his recent visit to Ukraine, which took place between 30 March and 8 April, and share first-hand accounts of the conflict’s devastating toll on children. As at 10 April, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had reported that 142 children were killed and 229 injured. A 4 April report by the NGO Save the Children stressed that an estimated 5.5 million children who remain in the country face severe risks of physical and emotional harm due to continuous attacks. Fontaine is expected to express concern about reports of violations of children’s rights and call on parties to protect children from harm, in accordance with applicable international law.

Among other issues, Fontaine may highlight the situation of vulnerable civilians, including displaced and disabled children, as well as foreign students. He might underscore the need to identify and register unaccompanied children, as they face increased risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation. In addition, Fontaine may describe the dangers posed to children by landmines and explosive remnants of war and remind parties of their obligations to clear such hazards.

The war’s effects on children’s access to education is an expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to data collected by OCHA, there had been 928 attacks on education facilities in Ukraine as at 8 April. In this regard, several Council members are expected to reference the need to implement resolution 2601 of 29 October 2021 on the protection of education in conflict, which urges all parties to cease attacks and threats of attacks against schools. The resolution also calls on member states to facilitate access to education for children with disabilities who are affected by armed conflict and for refugee and displaced children. Some members may express concern about the conflict’s effects on children’s mental health and psychological wellbeing, recalling that resolution 2601 encourages member states and donors to integrate mental health and psychosocial services in humanitarian responses.

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